Evolutionary thought has accustomed us to think of polytheism, the belief in many gods or forces, as a mark of primitive cultures emerging out of animism. Polytheism is ostensibly succeeded by monotheism, and monotheism by science and reason. This construction is not historical; it is, moreover, philosophical and mythological.
The Plague of Polytheism
Polytheism seems rather to mark a culture in decay, and an atomistic society. When, not long after World War II, Dr. Clark Kerr denied the concepts of a universe and a university in favor of a multiverse and a multiversity, he espoused polytheism. Instead of a unified cosmos and a truth binding in all times and places, reality became a mass of conflicting forces, relevances, and limited and purely utilitarian and instrumental truths. The cosmos ceased from this viewpoint to be either the magnificent order of the omnipotent and Triune God, or the marvelous machine of earlier scientists. Instead, like the city dump, it became a miscellaneous and meaningless collection of a vast nothing. This is the world of polytheism: it knows no over-all truth and order, only fragments and limited connections in the shambles of time and space. Polytheism is a fact of cultural decay and collapse.
A key fact thus of polytheism is that at best the area and scope of meaning is severely limited. There is no universal scope, sway, or meaning in the world of polytheism, except by imperialistic aggression. From Alexander the Great to the present, the world of polytheism has no means of a common truth and order except by imperialistic conquest. In such a world, neither order nor meaning have a universal sway; hence, force tries to bind those factors which are held to lack the cohesiveness of truth and a common Creator.
As a result, polytheistic religion keeps to its own corner. Zeus, Venus, Mercury, Apollo, and the other “gods” made no attempt to gain either exclusive or universal jurisdiction. Moreover, even within the narrow limits of the Athens city-state, none of the “gods” attempted to control the state, education, or sexual life. The “gods” did not prescribe either an economic nor a political order. Polytheistic religion is more prone to demanding gifts and bribes for the temple than to making claims over men and nations.
Thus, whenever and wherever a religion becomes polytheistic, it ceases to be catholic and to make universal claims. It then limits its jurisdiction to a corner of life and it is content for crumbs from the rest.
Now with the rise of the Enlightenment, the churches of Europe began to limit their spheres severely. It can be argued with good cause that the churches had overstepped their boundaries at times. There is a very important distinction at this point. The church, in terms of Scripture, has no jurisdiction and control over other institutions and spheres of life except a “spiritual” one, i.e., the proclamation and application of God’s Word and authority to every realm. To limit the church, however, emphatically cannot and does not mean the limitation of Christianity and the Triune God. Rather, the church must declare that every sphere of life must be under the rule of God’s Word and under the authority of Christ the King.
The 24/7 Christian
Put very, very simply, this means that a man must be a Christian in church, home, school, state, vocation, and all of life. In going from one sphere to another, a man does not move from the realm of Christ, to that of Mammon, Baal, Molech, or any other “god.” Similarly, neither the school, state, nor any other order of life can exempt itself from the catholic or universal sway of God’s rule and law. It is a sin to steal, bear false witness, or have other gods wherever we are.
With the Enlightenment, the churches limited their sphere, and God’s sphere, to the spiritual realm. Before long, God became the absentee landlord of the physical universe. Tithing, for example, moved from a general and necessary requirement to a voluntary and increasingly more infrequent practice. Less and less could the “spiritual” realm, God, command the “material” realm, the state and economics.
Polytheism was born thus within the church. The work of Jesus Christ was progressively limited to soul-saving, and, with the steady rise of Arminianism, even here man gave an assist to God.
As a result, the cosmic Christ was traded for a polytheistic Christ, and the Bible was read, not as God’s law-word, but as a devotional book for pietists. The state (and most of life) was thus “freed” from God to follow a humanistic course. Humanism, as the new Catholicism, began to claim the school and all other agencies and institutions, until humanism too began to decay within and thus resort to force to gain its will without, i.e., in the physical world of men and nations.
The God of Scripture, however, as the Lord and Creator of heaven and earth, claims and has absolute and total jurisdiction over every area of life and thought. For any area to claim independence from God is revolution and sin. It is an even more serious offence for Christ’s church to deny the universal jurisdiction of Christ the King. Such a step adds treason to revolution, and it incurs and invites the wrath of Almighty God.
A theology of the state is thus a Biblical necessity. God as creator declares Himself to be the sovereign over all men and nations; His law has universal sway. The nations are summoned in Psalm 2 to cease their conspiracies and wars against Him and His law, or failing to do so, to be smashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel by a rod of iron. Jesus Christ is proclaimed “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16).
A Christian theology of the state must challenge the state’s claims of sovereignty or lordship. Only Jesus Christ is lord or sovereign, and the state makes a Molech of itself when it claims sovereignty (Lev. 20:1-5).
The church must be roused out of its polytheism and surrender. The crown rights of Christ the King must be proclaimed.
Reprinted from: Christianity and the State, Vol. 1 (Ross House Books: Vallecito, CA, 1986), 1-3.
- R. J. Rushdoony
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.